In year 2016, tremendous shifts happened in various parts of the world that posed perplexing challenges to international marketing. Recent socio-political developments in the world’s giant economies (e.g. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the protectionist inclination of US President Trump) threaten the open global exchange of goods and services. On the other hand, technological advances are connecting more people in the world than ever before. Social Media Examiner reported that subscription to Facebook, the most widely used social media platform by marketers in the world, has increased by 224.4 percent as of mid-2016 since 2010, with almost 23 percent penetration of the world’s population. It is also apparent that more people are getting virtually connected, reflected in a 49.5 percent global internet penetration rate as of mid-2016, according to the Internet World Stats.
Of the many developments in global business, the double-edged sword of our virtual market place is apparent.
Market research firm eMarketer projects global e-commerce sales will eclipse $3.5 trillion within the next five years. The web will account for 7.3 percent of global retail sales in 2016, growing to 12.4 percent by 2019 according to the Internet Retailer. Yet virtual media also damaged several global brands when unpreparedness met speed and intensity of online content and interactions generated by the consumers.
This was the case of the Maggi Noodles crisis in India in 2015, when a food-safety commissioner claimed that a package of the noodles had been found to contain seven times the permissible level of lead. But what at first seemed like a regulatory rage ascended into a crisis. Within a week the first national news story about a Maggi health scare emerged in a newspaper. A few days later the hashtag #MaggiBan surfaced on Twitter and had gone viral on the digital space even beyond India’s geographic market. Fortune Magazine reported that Nestlé lost at least $277 million in missed sales. Add the damage to its brand value—which one consultancy pegged at $200 million.
Businesses shaped the digital channels to empower millions of consumers to achieve unimaginable reach, yet the very same channel also made global brands more vulnerable and raw as mobile doors opened.
The global virtual field is evolving, with a command to amplify misunderstandings between brands and consumers. It is ironic that the digital platforms that can be used to harness brands can also cause a backlash.
According to Michael Czinkota, a professor of International Business and Marketing at Georgetown University and the University of Kent, “a global approach is imperative to solve global problems. Marketing is too important to be left to marketers. Curative international marketing accepts responsibility for problems that marketing has caused. It then uses marketing capabilities to set things right and promote the well-being of the individual and society on a global level.” But change is yet to happen as profit is still at the fore in marketing.
International marketers are propelled to seize the future in a relentless environment. In this new reality, Czinkota added, “the international marketer is subject to a new set of macro environmental factors, different constraints, and quite frequent conflicts resulting from different laws, cultures, and societies. The applications, complexity, and intensity of international marketing principles may vary substantially, particularly when the role of marketing is that of a key agent of societal change.”
Uncertainty is surrounding us. Ambiguity is trying to divide us. Instability must toughen us. Our uncompromising yet adaptive global mind should unite us as we set things right in our geographically fragmented yet virtually connected reality.
Ireene Leoncio is a faculty member of the Marketing and Advertising Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. Leoncio is a global citizen back in her home country after earning her master’s degree in Washington D.C. She worked for multinational companies managing global brands in Manila, New York City and the San Francisco Bay area.